Gastroenteritis (cont.)

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When should the doctor be called for gastroenteritis?

Because gastroenteritis, as defined above, usually runs a limited course and resolves on its own without professional or medical treatment, and most people will not need to contact a doctor. However, if a person begins to show signs of dehydration, especially if the person is unwilling or unable to adequately rehydrate orally at home, medical care should be sought. Signs and symptoms of dehydration may include:

  • decreased or no urine production,
  • dry mucus membranes,
  • dry mouth or skin,
  • inability to produce tears,
  • weakness,
  • lightheadedness, and
  • low blood pressure.

If gastroenteritis symptoms last for more than about 5 days, or there is an increase in the severity (fever of 101 F or higher, bloody diarrhea, dehydration, constant abdominal pain) or the development of other symptoms, the affected individual should seek medical care. The person may have had gastroenteritis symptoms, but may have a disease more serious gastroenteritis that does not run a limited course, and does not resolve without professional or medical treatment.

How is gastroenteritis diagnosed?

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Gastroenteritis is most often presumptively diagnosed simply by the symptoms. Because gastroenteritis is a disease that usually runs a limited course that resolves without medical treatment, the large majority of patients are never seen or diagnosed by a health care professional. There are no specific tests for gastroenteritis. However, during outbreaks like those seen on cruise ships, viral and bacterial cultures or PCR and other immunologically-based tests can identify the causative pathogen. However, by the time this identification occurs, most of the patients have begun to recover. When gastroenteritis symptoms become severe, most public health officials and clinicians run such tests to identify the causative agent based on the pateint's history, physical exam, and symptoms.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/2/2014

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